If you were ever curious as to what ‘cyberpunk synthwave’ sounds like, then look no further than Wellington-based artist StrayLight’s latest album, DataSteel; released on 8th December 2017 through Filtersweep Collective. This instrumental concept album tells the stories of “low life in a high-tech dystopia”, where “death is easy and life is cheap”. These stories are told through retro-flavoured synthesizers that will have you nostalgic for the soundtracks of dystopian science fiction films from the 80s, while appreciating a modern reimaging of the genre.
It is clear that StrayLight has put a lot of work into this album and its production (DataSteel was written, produced and mastered by StrayLight). They have taken their time in making sure the sounds match the concept, as well as mixed and mastered to perfection. There is a good range of dynamics to be found on DataSteel: it is not all bright, high pitched 80s-inspired synths. Additionally, the flow of this album works well; there’s a perfect blend of tempos and moods to keep listeners interested and invested in DataSteel’s story.
As mentioned, DataSteel is instrumental (other than the odd spoken word via vocoder, primarily found on the album’s opening track, ‘The Beginning of the End’), which gives freedom to explore the theme and genre without having to adhere to a ‘pop structure’. It is also the kind of instrumental album that will have you creating visuals inside your mind as you listen: thirty seconds into the album’s second track, ‘Cyber Ninja’, I was already picturing myself on the run from Terminator-like law enforcement. This album does not need lyrics to tell the story, which is probably its most stand out feature in my opinion. It truly does feel like a dystopian city where human life is no longer valued.